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Legal Grind® presents

The Little Law Book

by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, J.D
Illustrations by Daphne San Jose

Legal Procedures and Courts


Jargon: Lawyer's Shoptalk

Jargon is the special language of a group or activity. Teenagers talk in their own way. For them, ' badî means ' goodî! Athletes...let' s not even start on that!

Lawyers, like other professionals and athletes, have their own language, words that have special meaning for them and their colleagues in the business of law. Shoptalk. Jargon. Sometimes this jargon may be off putting and mysterious to others.

From apples to hands, fruit to fishing, black to blue, here are examples of common words with uncommon and precise legal meaning.

  1. TWO BITES AT THE APPLE Generally not permitted. It's the idea that someone will have more than one chance to argue his case before a court; to present his evidence more than once. In law you get one try! Be prepared to give it your best shot!
  3. Forum Shopping drawing

    Supposedly not permitted. This occurs when a plaintiff (Π) or defendant (∆) tries to have the case heard in a particular court by a particular judge where he thinks the outcome may be better.

  4. FRUIT-OF-THE-POISONOUS-TREE DOCTRINE Constitutionally based. Evidence that is obtained through an illegal search, seizure, or illegal interrogation is ' fruit of the poisonous treeî and may generally not be used as evidence against a ∆. For example, a gun is illegally seized by the police. The number on the gun may not be used to identify the owner. This doctrine has evolved over the years to respond to the Fourth Amendment rule against unreasonable searches and seizures without properly obtained warrants.
  5. CLEAN HANDS The equity doctrine that the court will not grant relief to a person who acted wrongfully (had unclean hands) when he complains of someone else' s wrongdoing.
  6. FISHING EXPEDITION A discovery technique, whereby a party seeks to get information from the other side by asking questions in a general and vague manner. Also, courtroom questions that are vague and broadly phrased, trying to pull in all sorts of material, like a fishing net. Courts may limit the scope of such discovery through protective orders and by disallowing such questions at trial.
  7. FIRST IMPRESSION A case that presents the court with a new question of law, so that there may be no precedents on which the court may rely to reach its decision.
  8. ARM' S-LENGTH TRANSACTION A deal negotiated by parties, who are unrelated by blood, marriage, ownership, or other relationship, where each party may be said to act in his/her/its own self-interest. When related parties negotiate deals, they need to meet this standard in order for the deal to be considered a reflection of a fair market value. For example, in tax situations, when a value is placed on property, its price needs to have been reached at ' arm' s length.î
  9. MEETING OF THE MINDS Hard to picture, isn' t it! But it' s what lawyers call the manifestation, or demonstration, of the mutual agreement necessary to form a contract (K). To be enforceable, a K has to reflect the parties' mutual intent as demonstrated by their acts and deeds at the time.
  10. RIPENESS DOCTRINE Has nothing to do with fruit. This is a constitutional doctrine. Courts will not decide cases before they have matured, before there is a concrete controversy that must be adjudicated. Courts do not deal with hypothetical cases or with parties who do not have an actual interest in the outcome of the case. It' s not enough to have a dispute that may be interesting or socially important. Also, if the dispute has vanished or been resolved (gone beyond ripe!), courts won' t hear it. Then we' re into the mootness doctrine.

Now for some color words!


Black letter law: Basic legal principles, usually accepted by judges and lawyers. The roots. The foundation.

Blacklist: Illegal. A list of persons, whom the lister wishes to single outs for ostracism, boycotts avoidance, and negative publicity. It was used by employers against certain workers who participated in legal union activities; by businesses listing persons who are bad credit risks, insolvent, et cetera.

Blackmail: A crime, a form of extortion. Threatening to harm a person or his property, to accuse him of a crime, to expose damaging information about the person (even if true), or to use other similar threats in order to demand (extort) money.

Black market: Buying, trading, and selling goods and services ' under the table,î illegally, without declaring any income on the transactions-and without paying any taxes on them. Or, buying, trading, and selling goods that are illegal-contraband.


Blue chip stocks: Stocks that generally are considered to be less risky than other stocks. They are considered to be safer investments because they represent old, well-known, and well-established companies. Initially, the stocks may have sold at a hundred dollars per share- like the casino' s blue chips! Thus, the name.

Blue laws: Local or state laws that mandate the closing of certain businesses on Sunday.

Blue sky laws: State regulations of the sale of stocks. Designed to protect citizens from fraudulent companies.


Red herring: In a legal argument, an issue raised that is interesting and possibly important-but has no relevance at all to the issues of the case. It' s a diversionary tactic. Also, a prospectus sent to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) before a stock issue. It may be copied in red - for information only!

Redlining: Unlawful as discriminatory. It' s a way to limit credit to homeowners based in certain neighborhoods. It does not take into account the creditworthiness of the specific potential property owner. Redlining used to show up on city maps - in red, often singling out minority neighborhoods.


White-collar crime: Nonviolent crimes committed by corporations, businesses, executives, public officials, and management types - all sorts of people who wear white-collared shirts and suits. These crimes may involve corruption, fraud, bribery, extortion, and other commercial crimes.

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